Health Minister Deb Matthews has responded to a persistent problem with neglect and abuse in Ontario’s nursing homes by eliminating annual inspections, says Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the 130,000-member Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
“Instead of being proactive in their inspection process, Ontario is now waiting for critical incidents to take place or for frail and elderly residents to complain before they will act,” says Thomas. “It’s a little like taking police officers off the beat and waiting for the victims of crime to call in.”
Matthews told the Toronto Star yesterday that only problems homes will receive a resident quality inspection, relying on family, residents and staff to alert inspectors to problems.
“Homes that are least compliant are also more likely to have residents unable to complain,” says Jane Meadus of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE). “These residents are also less likely to have family or friends to complain on their behalf: if they had those people they wouldn’t be in these homes in the first place.”
Meadus says in other cases, residents and families are afraid to complain because of fears of retaliation.
“This government has said it will protect the vulnerable, frail residents of long-term care – who are now sicker and require more care than ever before due to the closure of rehabilitation, complex continuing care, and mental health beds – but are failing to do so by refusing to inspect the homes on an annual basis as promised and required to ensure high quality care,” she says.
“This is a blatant evasion of responsibility for the health and well-being of our vulnerable citizens,” says Derrell Dular, Managing Director of the Older Canadians Network. “If the City of Toronto can inspect all of its thousands of restaurants each year, why can’t the province inspect 641 long term care homes? Where are their priorities?”
The inspectors went public this week, complaining that it was taking up to a year to respond to individual complaints and that less than one in five homes were receiving comprehensive inspections each year.
The backlog of inspections is so long that inspectors say they were arriving at homes to find the resident who made the original complaint had passed away.
The inspectors say they are being told to focus on the complaint – a not so subtle suggestion to overlook other compliance issues while in the home.
The Ministry of Health says it received 2,841 complaints last year.
If a home gets no complaints, there will be no inspection despite a requirement under the Long Term Care Homes Act that an annual inspection will take place.
The inspectors say the Ministry is bending the rules by accepting any complaint investigation as fulfilling that requirement.
“Many of these residents have no family members nearby and cannot speak for themselves,” says Thomas. “Without annual inspections, many vulnerable residents will be left unprotected.”
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